AWOL soldier gets 11 years for rapes, arson

AWOL soldier gets 11 years for rapes, arson »Play Video
Nathaniel R. Smith apologizes to the judge at Friday's sentencing.
TACOMA, Wash. - An AWOL Fort Lewis soldier was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the rape and torture of two women near Tacoma last year.

The judge said he was "stunned" that such brutal crimes could be committed by a sergeant who had served his country in the U.S. Army.

Nathaniel Ryan Smith, 29, had earlier pleaded guilty to the charges stemming from two separate attacks on women in the Parkland area in January 2009.

Smith also was accused of setting fire to his apartment in an attempt to destroy evidence after the second attack.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge James Orlando handed down the 11-year sentence. Smith pleaded guilty in March to charges of second-degree rape, second-degree attempted rape and arson.

At Friday's hearing, Smith apologized and said, "I never wanted to harm anyone."

Pierce County sheriff's deputies and Tacoma police said Smith is responsible for attacks on women Jan. 1 and Jan. 3, 2009, in the Parkland area near Tacoma.

Pierce County sheriff's detectives said in the first attack Smith approached a woman in the 7900 block of Pacific Avenue and strangled her until she became unconscious.

Smith took the woman to his Parkland home and bound her up. Threatening her with a gun and a butcher knife, he then raped and tortured her, detectives said.

Investigators said Smith committed a nearly identical attack on another woman two days later, after which he set his home on fire and fled.

The second attack ended after the victim broke loose and ran to the home of a neighbor.

Smith disappeared after the second attack. He was arrested Jan. 15 outside of Austin, Texas, by law officers who spotted him driving a rental car with switched plates.

Smith is an Iraq War veteran who served as a cavalry scout with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and had been stationed at Fort Lewis since July 2006.

At Friday's sentencing, Judge Orlando said, "I'm still stunned, Mr. Smith, by what you did."

"You can't blame PTSD," the judge added. "We have lots of folks who've served their country in significant combat in Iraq and Afghanistan that come home with those experiences, but don't turn around and rape and molest anyone to the degree that you did."

Smith apologized to the judge and to his victims at the hearing.

"Your honor, I'm so sorry. I never meant to hurt anyone I never wanted to harm anyone," Smith said.

"I've lived my whole life up until now honorably and responsibly, and I hope that the women that I hurt eventually some day will diminish me as much as they can in their memories and importance in their lives. That doesn't take away from how awful they must feel now, and I hope that they get a little piece of mind knowing that I'm going to be incarcerated."

Smith vowed to get treatment.

"I will fix the problems that brought me here, I swear, because I have to get back to my family," he said. "They love me, and they miss me, and I miss them. I owe it to them and myself, and I owe it to my soldiers because they're in Iraq right now which is where I should be, but I'm not. I'm here. My own fault, and I failed them. So I have to make it right. I have to redeem myself."

In the first alleged attack, on Jan. 1, the victim told investigators she was on her way to a store when a man yelled at her, ran up behind her and choked her until she passed out.

According to court documents, the woman woke up naked and tied up inside a house. As she struggled to free herself, she heard a man say, "If you fight, you'll die."

Investigators said the man held a butcher knife up to her face and said, "If you cooperate, you'll go home."

According to a statement of probable cause filed in Pierce County Superior Court, the man put a gag in the woman's mouth, sexually assaulted and raped her repeatedly, and shocked her by connecting electrified clamps to her body.

The woman told police that the attacker told her "If you tell anybody, police or anyone, I will kill you, and your family. I can find you. I will find you," the documents said.

As she was putting on clothes, the police report said, the man told her, "I have killed several people in Iraq; I'm crazy in the head and if I get caught by the police, I will come looking for you and kill you."

In the second attack, on Jan. 3, the victim told investigators she was attacked by a man who met her at the Tacoma Mall and she agreed to go home with him. But once there, the man choked her until she blacked out.

She told police that when she woke up, her hands were bound and the man put a gag in her mouth. She was able to fight the man off and run out of the house.

The man was still chasing her when she began hitting the side of a neighbor's home in an attempt to get help. But as soon as the neighbor came to the window, the man ran off.

The neighbor later told KOMO News that she looked out the window of her home and saw the woman slamming her head against the house desperately trying to get someone's attention.

She and her husband got the woman inside and, after getting the gag out of her mouth, the first thing the woman said was, "I've been kidnapped."

Police later identified the suspect in the attacks as Smith, a sergeant with a Fort Lewis Stryker brigade who went AWOL and disappeared after setting fire to his residence.

When police went into the house, they found a smoldering fire in an upstairs bedroom. Officers saw burned sex toys and scorched rope, a car battery and jumper cables at the foot of a bed, and a cattle prod, according to the police report.

Investigators said Smith has extensive training in survival skills and martial arts.